Dear Mama (with a baby that won’t sleep),
Let me guess… it’s 2 am and your little one has woken up four times already since you put him down at 7 pm (the time that all the sleep books tell us they should go to bed).
You’re so tired it takes you a few minutes to work out if the baby is actually crying or if the sound is just so embedded in your mind that you think you might be dreaming it.
You hope you’re dreaming it…. But you’re not.
You roll yourself out of bed and find your baby in the co-sleeper, or in their cot, you cuddle them, rock them, pat them and soothe them. Some nights this takes a few minutes… other nights, hours… Oh I’ve been there.
One night I actually laid next to the cot, patting my baby, singing to him until I fell asleep. And guess what – the moment I stopped singing and stopped patting, he started crying again.
I’ve nursed to sleep, pat to sleep, rocked to sleep, cried to sleep (me, not him), co-slept, slept in his own cot… I’ve tried it all. Really. Everything. I’ve been where you are now and I just want to tell you – hang in there, you will get through.
During the stage of waking up every hour through the night (seriously, I could set my watch by him sometimes), I thought I was the worst mum in the world.
I had read books about sleep cycles and sleep training, I had other mothers telling me their babies slept through the night (I later learned that sleeping through the night meant sleeping for 5 hours and not the 12 I had thought they meant) and I couldn’t figure out why my baby wouldn’t sleep.
Oh the torture I put myself though. I figured it was my fault, I thought I wasn’t making enough milk so he was hungry (I had plenty of milk) so I started doing things to increase my supply.
I thought I wasn’t feeding him enough during the day; he was 6 months old, food was just for fun. I thought I was being neglectful because I wasn’t co-sleeping with him, then co-sleeping made him wake at the slightest movement so I moved him back to his own cot. I really did try everything (that I was willing to try).
I also became a masterful negotiator. It went something like this; ‘please, please, if you go to sleep now and sleep for just 3 hours straight, I will have enough energy to play with you for hours tomorrow.’ Yes, I really did attempt to negotiate with a 6 month old. Hey, I was majorly sleep deprived.
After going through all of this, I later found out that some babies just don’t sleep well. There’s nothing wrong with them, there’s nothing wrong with you, they are simply a baby that just won’t sleep. So here’s some things I want you to remember.
It’s okay to ask for help.
Ask a friend, ask a family member, hell ask anyone you trust with you baby to watch them for a few hours. Even for just an hour or two so you can nap. There is a lot of value in a power nap and it really can see you through.
It’s okay to let your baby cry for 10 minutes to compose yourself.
Check your baby isn’t hungry, check their nappy is clean and dry, then put them down in the cot or in a safe place and walk away. Go and make yourself a cup of tea, sit down and drink it. There’s a difference between 10 minutes of them crying, and hours of them screaming without being attended to.
I am not an advocate for ‘cry it out’ or any form of it, however, 10 minutes while you compose yourself and take a breather can make the world of difference. Again, I’m not saying to do this all the time, but Mama, if you’re in the trenches, you know what I mean.
Check your milk supply & your baby’s latch.
If your baby is waking often to feed it could be that your supply is a little low or that they aren’t latching properly and therefore not being able to feed properly.
The easiest way to tell if your baby is getting enough milk is by how many wet nappies they are having each day. This depends on their age but can easily be found on your local breastfeeding website.
It will also give you a guide to see if there are any other signs that your supply could be low. Remember, milk is supply and demand so the more your baby nurses, the more you will make. If you do find your supply is low there are some easy ways to increase it.
Also, see a Lactation Consultant. I truly believe all mothers should see a Lactation Consultant.
Throw away the books.
There are so many books written about parenting and sleep training and sleep cycles that reading them all will make you go nuts. Trust your baby and their cues.
After almost having a breakdown one day because according to one of these books I was a failure, I threw them all out.
Listen to your instincts. You know when your baby needs you, you feel it within you. Babies need their mothers close by, it’s biological and hardwired into them. Keep in mind the fourth trimester and the incredible adjustments your baby is making by going from womb to world.
Hire a cleaner.
Okay, I even laughed a little while typing this but my point is the same nonetheless. Cleaning is not a priority at the moment. Let the house be a mess, let the washing pile up and don’t even look at the dust. Go to bed and sleep every chance you get.
Baby wearing saved my sanity.
Possibly the single greatest purchase I have ever made as a parent was my baby carrier. I was able to pop my little one in it and he was happy because he was close to me and I was happy because I could have both hands free and move around the house.
If you can’t afford a carrier, there are plenty of tutorials on how to make a wrap out of a length of fabric (I think you need around 6 metres).
It is not your fault.
This is the absolute most important point of all.
If you start blaming yourself for everything then you’re headed down a horrible road. As a parent we tend to be so hard on ourselves, there is this expectation that we have to be ‘perfect’.
Stop comparing your baby to others, each baby is different.
If you’re really worried, speak to your Midwife or care provider about it. Other than that, cut yourself some slack, give your baby a hug and a kiss and remember that some babies just don’t sleep well.
This too shall pass.
This won’t be forever. It’s not like you’re going to have a 5 year old that wakes every hour. Before you know it you’ll be sleeping through the night again, wondering how on earth you made it through this time.
My little baby boy is now a big kid, and his sister was exactly the same as him (and now a sassy toddler) and they both sleep like champions.
They sometimes wake through the night, but they mostly sleep through. My son puts himself to sleep (take that all those people who told me I was ‘ruining’ him by nursing him to sleep!! Ha!!) and some nights my daughter does too.
A crazy little part of me even misses all the extra cuddles I had during those early nights. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
So take some time to yourself, remember that looking after you is just as important as looking after your baby.
These first few months of your baby’s life goes by so quick before you know it you’ll be telling others about all the things you learned during those sleepless nights that felt like they would never end.
And know that when your baby smiles at you, when their tiny little hand rests on your face and when they say ‘mummy’ for the very first time, ever single one of these nights will be worth every second.
You’ve got this Mama,